It would be encouraging to think, as Jonathan Mahler contends in “When ‘Long-Form’ Is Bad Form” (Op-Ed, Jan. 25), that long-form writing is a “cult” so pervasive as to be the “journalistic environment we’re living in.” He suggests that it is so powerful that it may have led to a woman’s death.
However, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the closeted transgender woman supposedly victimized by bad narrative practice, could as easily have been hounded to suicide by a vicious tweet as by the somewhat longish article that Mr. Mahler cites.
Long form may be fetishized in hashtags and “artisanal” websites, but that, too, speaks to the form’s embattled status. Mr. Mahler is right to fear a moral cost as long form’s methods degenerate. Few among long form’s recent celebrators could define what it actually is (hint: it isn’t necessarily long), and those who still ardently practice its combination of searching metaphor, hard reporting and narrative discipline are forced into shrinking news holes in fewer and fewer prominent venues, despite the efforts of some very good websites to counter the corrosion.
The true prevailing (and murderous) journalistic genre today is simplistic assertion glibly made — a cult not of length, but of haste.